To obtain approval, qualifications must meet the criteria below and awarding bodies must agree to the terms and conditions of approval. Applications should be made via the online application form.


1. Alignment with standards


The Higher Technical Qualifications must relate to one or more occupations for which occupational standards are published at Level 4 or 5.

How the criterion will be applied:

We will verify alignment to the published standard(s).

Identifying occupations for which there are standards

Approval will be made against occupations where there is an occupational standard. In the online application form, awarding bodies will be asked to clearly identify the occupation the qualification aligns to. Where a qualification aligns to more than one occupation, the approval criteria must be met in full for each one. Approval and the quality mark given to the qualification will apply only to these designated occupations.  

Some occupational standards (called core and options standards) cover several separate occupations with similar training needs. Awarding bodies should identify which occupations (options) the qualification aligns to. There are currently no core and options standards in the digital route.

Levels of occupations and qualifications

We recognise that the level of qualifications may not match the occupational level. We will accept the submission of level 4 or 5 qualifications against occupations at either level: for example, a level 5 qualification (e.g. a foundation degree or HND) against a level 4 occupation.

However, this approach will only apply to qualifications and occupations at level 4 and 5 and we will not accept the submission of a qualification at level 5 that aligns to a digital occupational standard at level 6.  

Qualifications with multiple optional units

We are aware that some qualifications include multiple optional units or pathways. We will only approve qualifications where every possible combination of units or pathways ensures that a learner achieves competence in at least one occupation for which there is a standard.

Optional units that do not align to occupations should be removed or qualifications redesigned to ensure this is the case.

2. Competence (coverage of standards)


The higher technical qualification must ensure a person can demonstrate they have attained as many of the outcomes set out in the standard(s) as may reasonably be expected to be attained by undertaking a course of education.

How the criterion will be applied:

The level of competence attained should enable a learner to enter into skilled employment in a relevant occupation

The qualification should cover all knowledge, skill and behaviour statements that can be delivered in a classroom environment and are not contingent on being in work in the occupation. Despite the challenges of attaining behaviours in a classroom, they should be developed as far as is possible (e.g. expectations of behaviours)

There are no limits placed on the duration of qualifications as long as they meet the competence required

To be credible to employers and learners as qualifications that deliver competence, we will usually expect higher technical qualifications to cover at least 60% of all the knowledge, skills and behaviours in a standard. The omission of any knowledge, skills or behaviours should be justified with employer evidence. Where the guide mark of 60% is not achieved, we will consider further evidence from employers to determine whether this criterion can still be met

A higher technical qualification must also demonstrate that the attainment of all the relevant outcomes of the occupational standard is assessed using valid and appropriate methods for the occupation that can be delivered within the constraints of a course of (e.g. manageability, feasibility, affordability)

Qualification may also include additional content relevant to the occupation that is valuable to employers.

The key test for approval is that by obtaining the qualification a person can demonstrate that they have attained as many of the knowledge, skills and behaviours set out in the standard as may be reasonably expected by undertaking a course of education.

We will ask you to demonstrate the alignment by providing a rationale and evidence, which has been supported by employers. This means that all the outcomes that can reasonably be delivered in a classroom environment and are not contingent on being in work in the occupation should be included. In addition, we will ask you to provide a rationale for excluding from the qualification any knowledge, skills, and behaviours in the standard. The justifiable rationale could include (but not be limited to):

  • that there is limited access to specialist machinery or equipment required to practice a particular skill (however, this should not discourage submission of qualifications that have been designed for a specialist provider)
  • there are additional requirements, such as certification or registration, which are required meaning the knowledge, skill or behaviour cannot be achieved through this qualification.
  • the knowledge, skill or behaviour statement requires the individual to be based in an organisation or workplace (for example, understanding a particular company’s brand, goals, and commercial objectives)
  • the statement refers to the use of an organisation’s systems or processes which cannot be accessed e.g. content management systems, internal intranets, company guidelines and data

We usually expect higher technical qualifications to meet at least 60% of all the knowledge, skills and behaviours in a standard. We will consider approving qualifications that fall below this threshold if there is compelling evidence from employers of the value of the qualification.


As described in our guidance on developing occupational standards, behaviours are mindsets, attitudes or approaches required for competence, generally across an entire occupation. Whilst these can be innate or instinctive, they can also be learnt.

We recognise that it can be challenging for learners to fully attain behaviours from a qualification rather than experience in the workplace. However, behaviours should be covered as comprehensively as possible, for example through teaching the expectations of behaviours.


We will seek to determine that the knowledge, skills and behaviours in an occupational standard are assessed in the qualification using valid and appropriate methods for the occupation that can be delivered within the constraints of a course of education for example:

  • manageability
  • feasibility
  • affordability

We will also confirm with awarding bodies that the assessment provides full coverage of the relevant knowledge, skills and behaviours. We ask awarding bodies to provide a rationale which explains:

  • why these methods are the most appropriate way of assessing the knowledge, skills and behaviours from the occupational standard(s)
  • how they ensure the assessment balances validity, manageability, reliability, comparability, and minimising bias
  • how they ensure that assessment is applied in an occupationally relevant context.
  • how the assessment will support and prepare a learner for entry into the workplace
  • the employers that have been consulted to ensure that the assessment meets employer expectations. we will ask awarding bodies to provide examples of their sample assessment materials as evidence of their approach

For approvals on the digital route, Ofqual will meet with awarding organisations they recognise to discuss their qualifications, particular aspects of compliance with the General Conditions of Recognition, and the materials they have submitted and will provide advice to the Institute.

Ofqual will review at the end of the first approval whether a more specific action is appropriate longer term. Any future changes to the approach to reviewing assessment will be developed in parallel and take into account the wider body of qualifications regulated by OfS.

Additional occupationally relevant content

As well as specific content that aligns to a standard, qualifications can include additional occupationally relevant content which is deemed of value to employers. Any content that not directly align with the occupational standard should be justified by employer evidence. We expect that this content could include (but not be limited to):

  • content which will increase the breadth and depth of understanding of a learner in their chosen occupational field
  • content that helps bridge a gap with a higher-level occupation and support progression.
  • content which provides additional transferable skills which will support a learner in their career within an occupation
  • content not agreed by employers as part of the relevant occupation, but relevant to the occupation in a specific context, sector, industry or locality
  • cutting edge or experimental content, not currently agreed by employers as part of the occupation but which could be valuable in future

3. Recognition and registration


Qualifications submitted by awarding bodies for approval must meet the relevant requirements in relation to regulatory oversight:Qualifications designed by Higher Education Providers must be awarded by a Higher Education Institution which has Foundation Degree/Degree Awarding Powers and is registered with the Office for StudentsQualifications designed by Ofqual-recognised Awarding Organisations must be on the Ofqual Register and available to learners in England.

How the criterion will be applied:

We will check appropriate regulatory requirements are met.

Any awarding body seeking approval of their qualification must meet the regulatory requirements of either Ofqual or the Office for Students. Qualifications regulated by Ofqual in the first set of approvals on the digital route are expected to be compliant with the General Conditions of Recognition.

Ofqual will engage with awarding organisations during the process and will provide advice to the Institute as part of the approval. They will also review the outcomes of the first approvals with the Institute to determine if specific regulation is required in future. Ofqual will consult on any changes as appropriate and relevant awarding organisations will be notified in advance of future approvals on other routes.